WHAT IS PART OF WORKING WITH WILLIAM FORSYTHE
By Elizabeth Corbett
In working with William Forsythe and the
Frankfurt Ballet, the development of movement generating systems was a
fascinating part of the creative process. Systems were developed in the studio
and brought to the stage in the form of choreographed material and
improvisation. Involvement in the development and application of systems and
task oriented processes strongly influence the way I think about dance and the
way I teach. The processes behind the work come into play and influence
interpretation and evolution of the work in repertory studies.
Looking back on its early years, the
Frankfurt Ballet under William Forsythe was a company in transition from that
of an opera ballet company to one of newly aquired independence, a growing
Forsythe repertory and freedom to tour internationally. There was a shift in
the audience in Frankfurt and a growing interest internationally but perhaps
more important to the company, there was a shift in the role of the dancer.
Necessity is the mother of invention. With regard to the audiences, questions
were in the air about the subject matter, the multiple points of focus on the
stage, surprising soundscapes and music, dancers speaking, and contemporary
movement. From the dancers' point of view we were aware of the audience and
what they were going through, but mostly we were busy with our work. Within the
company there were major shifts taking place in the role of the dancer in the
creative process where he/she was becoming more of an artistic collaborator, as
well as on stage where he/she was at once creative observer and performer.
Interplay between the carefully honed material and improvisation systems, and
the influence of unavoidable random factors kept the wheel spinning in an
interesting way, at least from my perspective. William Burroughs spoke of the
artist as a medium capable of generating dreams and visions for others to
experience, Forsythe put us all where the action was in an exciting unfolding
Movement generating systems from early
works sometimes referenced Rudolf von Laban's axial model within a cube in
various forms. Visualizing this cube with nine points on each plane with
straight, diagonal lines connecting points through a central hub, afforded a
clear point of departure as a system of body directions. This was one of its
intended purposes and would further be shared and used by the Frankfurt company
to develop phrases, to transpose movement and to generate improv systems.
Moving toward, away, and between any point, from any part of the body, in any
direction was a start. The cube, or cubes, as there could be many, simply
provided a map, a choice of paths. Taken further with the goal of added
complexity, through rotation at the joint, one's approach was affected and a more
complex residual movement, or resulting movement followed. "Sliding"
long lines, "dragging," "extruding", "dabbing" or
"swiping" etc. made for further range in movement qualities. What had
been about where to go became about where and
how. Still referencing Laban's cube, moving point to point on a periphery gave
rise to curved inscription. From there, again, adding-in rotation and
specificity of approaches to planes, points and directions in space, the
resulting movement was tweaked for further complexity and given leverage.
All this can fall under the subtitle of
inscription, one of many modes of movement. In the time of Laban, pathways in
space such as his cube were sometimes termed traceforms. Inscribing pathways in
space using Laban's cube as a point of departure was like referencing a three
dimensional map or a musical score in space with any part of the body or
imaginary extension as the point of inscription. Anything can be a traceform
and can be inscribed spatially according to the specifics of the individuals
involved in the process, the variations are fairly inexhaustible ... the cube
was a motor we fed with phrases, specific movement qualities, or ballet
language etc. Being specific, setting limits and priorities became among the
more interesting decisions and influenced how the movement looked and how it
felt. To further sculpt the movement or in a sense to add punctuation,
modification systems were applied; stillness, changing level by dropping,
making sounds and video scratching among many others. Another progression might
be: to learn a phrase of movement well enough so that you can randomly fragment
and re-link the steps in any order. Next one might redirect the material
spatially, randomly changing fronts. The next step in a progression might involve
changing levels by dropping or rising; maybe part of the phrase would be done
on the floor. From there substituting one limb for another might be of
interest, for example using your gaze to trace the pathway of the arm. What you
have then is a phrase reorganized in terms of order of sequence, spatial
orientation, and with regard to the assignment of body parts. One more step
might include adding parameters such as: sitting, keeping eye contact with
another performer etc.
So far much of our discussion concerning
systems has involved culling residual movement through task oriented
inscription of a traceform as a score with the addition of modifying factors to
further influence the movement. It's an open system consisting of endless menus
one can pull down and add to or subtract from. Now let's look at the flip side
of inscription: avoidance, or what could be termed the negative to
inscription's positive. Referencing that space around the pathways, points,
lines or another dancer's body – exploring the negative space, provides a
balance and a useful alternative to inscription. It's also seen as another mode
and for our purposes the sky's the limit in terms of modification. Using tools
such as "O-ing" "U-ing"(circular and semi-circular)
movement and "video scratching" (aller-retour) the pathway being
avoided can be made more present and clearly defined if such is the goal. But
this flip side of inscription can also simply be movement in and around all
that is not the positive. It's another mode in that it definitely has another
intent, the rest is purely subjective.
Inscription and avoidance can go well
together, changing roles randomly. Avoidance modality can also work well at a
distance from the reference, thereby making it a "reading" of sorts.
The result is very different for the obvious reason that one is less likely to
bump into anyone/thing. Inversely, a dialogue of inscription and avoidance at
close range naturally seems to lead into a broad range of naturally occurring
modifiers, at least in my experience. Modifiers, bringing further range and
complexity to the dialogue, can be encouraged through adjusting proximity,
noticing details and transposing them, changing modalities, adding stillness,
drops and changes in spatial orientation etc. – Giving and taking weight from
one another will make a huge difference in the dialogue, and possibly a very
welcomed one! Giving your partner impulses to move or manipulating them usually
follows or precedes weight bearing in an easy way and almost any modifier such as
these two can be applied to oneself or a partner equally.
Sometimes in this work it seems as if
certain tasks and pathways in space become patterns we return to habitually, – even when our objectives were to widen the range of choices. If your goal is to
diversify it may help to keep a couple ideas in mind and use them randomly to
unblock from patterns: moving toward the space behind you, using rotation
outside your usual comfort zone, and defining specific approaches and assigning
specific surfaces. Application of any or all might bring you back into more of
a "blind date" mode in that the resulting movement (or residual
movement) may prove complex enough to take you into a "falling"
state. Not knowing where you'll end up next could conceivably bring you further
from where you were in all ways, and into an unexpected next move or mode. It's
interesting that a race car driver lets the past fall behind and out of mind as
quickly as possible to be open to the present while keeping his/her eyes on the
road ahead. Movement or your judgment thereof, can haunt you or inform you or
you can let it go. Awareness of your present state can inform
decisions/reactions concerning options, or make one feel inhibited and hinder
flow. Some decisions seem to be taking place on an intuitive level. Some
aspects of choosing what to stay aware of can lead to or evolve into differing
states which can be referenced and reconstructed.
Moving on from the cube but taking anything
we want with us, other traceforms or points of departure for working with
movement generating systems can be looked at. Once again the sky's the limit
and anything from the space around you to the lines on the palm of your hand,
to sketches, or a blueprint can be useful. Where the cube was a system of body
directions – your score, so can anything be, if it works for you and supports
your goals. Degrees of success vary according to how you construct your system,
to what degree you allow your movement to be influenced by it and of course the
decisions you make and the rules you break. It may be worth mentioning that in
the realm of factors which influence movement almost nothing need be barred as
far as I can see, dependent again on what, if any specifics or
"givens" exist and what supports the intentions of the artists.
Emotions, memories, colors, sounds, what came before, what comes after, all can
play in, selection and weight of influence become the more important issues.
Everyone brings their baggage into the mix,
thankfully. In this sense, where developing movement generating and modifying
systems may appear constructivist, in actuality there are other processes at
work. Where one becomes more and more defined in specifics, the nature of the
work seems more in deconstructing, or more aptly put dismantling.
"I feel like I'm thinking too
much" says one dancer.
"I keep doing the same movements again and
again" says another.
Another confesses "I'm not actually
referencing the material anymore."
… all part of the process.
(July 6, 2008)
Elizabeth Corbett at the ImPulsTanz website